Big Ten Power Rankings: Is Iowa for Real?

Mark FodorCorrespondent IOctober 11, 2009

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Adrian Clayborn #94 of the Iowa Hawkeyes celebrates a 21-10 victory over the Penn State Nittnay Lions on September 26, 2009 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Big victory tonight for the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City, as they defeated Michigan 30-28 on a final minute interception of Denard "Shoelace" Robinson.

Kirk Ferentz, Ricky Stanzi, and crew are now 6-0 (2-0 in conference) and are the Big Ten's sole unbeaten team. This is the same team that squeaked by Northern Iowa 17-16 in the season opener.

Here are my Big Ten (Week Six) Power Rankings.

1. Iowa

They're unbeaten. They've played good teams in Penn State and Michigan and major conference opponents in their early schedule, defeating Arizona and Iowa State. The Wildcats and Cyclones aren't exactly good this year, but they're not Temple and Eastern Illinois either (*cough JoePa cough*).

I have been blown away by the play of junior DT Adrian Clayborn, he of the blocked punt-and-TD run against Penn State.

Huge road tests are coming up the next two weeks at Madison and East Lansing. If they survive, they're the front runner for the automatic BCS bid. My bet is they don't and settle for a nice Rose Bowl berth.

2. Ohio State

Terrelle Pryor has to be the best individual player in the conference. The Bucks handled Wisconsin with ease today. Ohio State has playmakers on offense (Pryor, Dane Sanzenbacher, Brandon Saine) and defense (Brian Rolle looks like a first rounder). At 5-1, with an unblemished 3-0 conference record, OSU is one miracle Matt Barkley drive away from being a top three team nationally.

Side note: I really dislike Matt Barkley.

Anyway, their remaining road games include a date next week at Purdue and then huge November games against Penn State and perennial rival Michigan. They get Minny at home, a freebie against New Mexico State, and then what is shaping up to be the Game of the Season, Nov. 14 against Iowa at the Horseshoe.

Ohio State can easily keep themselves in the BCS conversation if they keep playing like they have been.

3. Penn State

The Nittany Lions are mostly here by virtue of their No. 14 national ranking. The good includes a solid defense that has only yielded 50 points all season (17 of those to the Fighting Illini last week). The bad includes their soft schedule, with only Syracuse posing an out-of-conference challenge, and Daryll Clark's inability to stand up under pressure.

In that respect, he reminds me of the Titans' Vince Young—great in comfortable wins, freaks out when things go wrong. Definitely not Texas' VY; I'm talking about the pro version here. Not a good sign when you still have to play half of the Big Ten on the road in the second half of the season.

At least one of Michigan, Northwestern, or Michigan State will upset PSU on the road, and Ohio State will probably beat them in Happy Valley, too. That's three losses and a trip to the Outback Bowl in my mind.

4. Minnesota

If Pryor isn't the Big Ten's best player, Gopher WR Eric Decker might be. A supremely talented athlete, he has been a stud at wideout for a long time in Minneapolis. Just get him the ball, and Minnesota has a shot in any given game.

But on the downside, this team got beat by a Cal squad that's looking worse and worse as the season goes on and let Wisconsin get away with Paul Bunyan's Axe at home. Standing 4-2 (2-1) after six weeks, I foresee at least two more losses for the Golden Gophers. They've got road games against Penn State and Ohio State the next two weeks.

'Nuff said. If they get home 1-1 from that stretch, we can take them a little bit more seriously.

5. Wisconsin

I was wrong about Bret Bielema. Coming into the season, I thought he would be on the hot seat by now. Well, a 5-1 record (2-1 B10) with good wins against Michigan State and at Minnesota pretty much puts that to rest. John Clay reminds me an awful lot of Ron Dayne, and the power running game reminds me an awful lot of Barry Alvarez.

But the Badgers were overmatched and outplayed today at Ohio State and must bounce back next week against Iowa, which will probably land in the top 10 nationally coming into the game. An upset on the road would legitimize their season. A loss puts them about where they belong—squarely in the middle of the pack.

6. Michigan

Explosive, mistake-prone offense. Defense that allowed Indiana to roll up 476 yards. They've got a 4-2 record but are 1-2 in the Big Ten and on the outside looking in of the championship conversation.

On the bright side, a bowl bid would be a nice step in Rich Rod's rebuilding project. With Illinois, Purdue, and Delaware State on the menu, seven wins is well within reach.

7. Michigan State

They have shown a lot of grit coming back from a 1-3 start to land at .500, and they boast a 2-1 Big Ten record. I'm still not sold, but next week's home game against Northwestern means a whole lot for both teams.

Sparty and Willie Wildcat are going to be scrapping for the league's final bowl bid, and the winner on the 17th in East Lansing will have a major advantage.

8. Northwestern

Simply put, NU hasn't beaten anybody yet. They got hosed by the officials at Syracuse and couldn't come back against Minnesota at home. Wins against Purdue, Miami (OH), Eastern Michigan, and Towson aren't going to win you any style points at season's end.

See above for significance of next week's game. A win gets you to five with a winning Big Ten record. Also, they get Indiana at home for Homecoming (surprise, surprise—see IU section) and a road date at scuffling Illinois.

Just three wins get Pat Fitzgerald's Cats to seven and a bowl bid. But they're going to have to step up, especially on defense, and play like they are capable of doing.

9. Purdue

1-5 (0-2 B10). Games coming up against Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Michigan. Basically the best they can hope for is a couple more wins against their fellow Big Ten bottom-feeders, and frankly. I doubt they're going to get them.

They're here by virtue of hanging tough against Notre Dame, Oregon, and Northwestern. But I wouldn't be shocked if they finish below ninth in the league.

10. Indiana

Hoosiers fans have it rough. Every year, it seems like Indiana starts strong but then shows its true colors as the season progresses. It's hard to get a bandwagon started when you let Al Freakin' Groh (?!?!) shoot your tires off 47-7.

Indiana has looked awful now for two straight weeks following their mugging by the officials at the Big House, and the best hope is that redshirt frosh Darius Willis can get healthy and make some more big plays. The defense isn't awful, but it isn't good either. Ben Chappell would look better at a MAC school. The wideouts are talented yet inconsistent. The coaching staff...let's not go there.

Bill Lynch couldn't win at Ball State, and this is year three of his B-Town tenure. Let the Tommy Tuberville Watch begin. Next week is an absolute must win, with sad-sack Illinois coming to town for Homecoming.

Speaking of Homecoming, Indiana has served so far as patsy for two HCs (at Michigan, at Virginia) and has at least one more coming up in Evanston. You never want to be the team everyone wants to schedule for Homecoming. Again, where are you, Tommy T?

11. Illinois

This team was ranked preseason? Hahahahahaha...ahahahahaa...hah. Apparently neither quarterback can start, Arrelious Benn doesn't want to be a NFL wideout, and defense? Oh no. The Chief is 1-5, and Ron Zook looks like a goner. On the upside, I still think he's a better coach than Bill Lynch.

Have I mentioned that Larry Coker is starting a I-AA football program at UT-San Antonio, while these guys have BCS jobs? Tell me again why Big Ten schools can't pull coaching talent from the South, because there are a ton of unemployed guys (and underemployed guys) down there.

Wrapping it up, this is definitely not a "down year" for the Big Ten. The conference will field at least six worthy bowl teams and has eight that can contend in December, if not January.

There's still a lot of season left, but a few more losses at the top and a single BCS bid could easily put the Eleven in line for a very good bowl season.


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